Wednesday, October 22, 2014
I've heard about the backlog for SSD appeals, but I had no idea how much of a backlog exists until I read the story in the October 19, 2014 Washington Post. Waiting on a Social Security disability appeal? Get in line — a very long line brings a new perspective on waiting lists. The story reports that there are 990,399 (you read that right, 990,399) SSD appeals waiting for ALJ hearings. We have been hearing a lot about the backlog with the VA (526,000 according to the story) so why haven't we heard about the SSDI case backlog? Want to know how long it takes for a backlog of almost one million cases to occur? According to the Post story, the backlog has been going on since President Ford's administration, but a significant increase occurred between 2008-20014. Why did this occur? "[T]he system became, in effect, too big to fix: Reforms were hugely expensive and so logistically complicated that they often stalled, unfinished. What’s left now is an office that costs taxpayers billions and still forces applicants to wait more than a year — often, without a paycheck — before delivering an answer about their benefits." As well, factor in the "Great Recession" and Boomers. The article also mentions budget cuts to SSA as well as the government shutdown in 2013.
A sad irony-the story quotes one of the ALJs in S. Florida who had 2 claimants die before their appeals were heard, but the ALJ still had to hear the case of one, because if the decedent were determined to have been disabled, then the decedent's surviving child might receive benefits.
Although SSD waiting lists outnumber both VA and Patents, according to the story, the wait time to decision is shorter than that for the VA and Patent office. The SSA ALJs "are the moral centerpiece of this system: a symbol that the government intends to apply the old American ideal of due process before the law to the vast new caseloads of the American welfare state. They are also the system’s biggest problem — a 40-year-old clog in the pipe." A law prof at GW, Richard Pierce, takes the position "that the government should eliminate the judges altogether and just let the bureaucrats with the paperwork decide. [Professor Pierce] said that the main thing these hearings bring to the process — that face-to-face interaction between judges and applicants — often adds only pathos, not useful information."
A push to shrink the backload resulted in a drop of both cases and wait time in 2010 but a review of the decisions noted an uptick in the award of benefits. It would seem, from reading this article, that part of the problem is outdated requirements and resources available to the judges (or lack thereof). SSA has lessened the pressure on the ALJs to some extent, so now the ALJs are "limited ... to 720 cases a year and [SSA] imposed new checks to make sure the “yes” decisions are as well thought-out as the 'noes.'" The uptick in benefits awards has dropped, with the award of benefits at 44%. Despite the fact that SSSA has hired more ALJs, the backlog is pushing one million. The Post reports that there were an additional 13,000 added in the first two weeks of October! The story concludes by noting that the backlog isn't limited to just the ALJs. The Appeals Council also has a backlog: "There are 150,383 people waiting for an Appeals Council decision. The average wait there is 374 days."
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
The New York Times ran a story on October 11, 2014 about the Dutch pension system. No Smoke, No Mirrors: The Dutch Pension Plan focuses on the straightforward way that the Netherlands runs their pension program. "The Dutch system rests on the idea that each generation should pay its own costs — and that the costs must be measured accurately if that is to happen." The Dutch system works well, but it isn't without costs. The workers put away almost 2% more than U.S. workers but the Americans are including Social Security, which is not intended to fully replace pre-retirement earnings, but instead should "provide just 40 percent of a middle-class worker’s income in retirement."
The article notes that Dutch employers, like those in the U.S., contribute as well, but usually with a ceiling on contributions. Seem odd to have it capped? The article offers that this is actually an incentive for employers to stay with the plans. There's also another advantage to the Dutch system-if the markets do well and the pension has a surplus, the employer can't access it.
There are additional provisions that ensure success and checks and balances put into the system. Check out the article.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Articles recently posted by U.S. law school academics on the Social Science Research Network's (SSRN's) Elder Law Studies network:
- "Rethinking ERISA's Promise of Income Security in a World of 401(k) Plans," by Prof. Larry Frolik (Pitt Law), to be published in the Connecticut Insurance Law Journal (2014)
- "Making Mediation Work in Guardianship Proceedings: Protecting and Enhancing the Voices, Rights and Well-being of Elders," by Prof. Jennifer L. Wright (St. Thomas Law), for the Journal of International Aging, Law and Policy (2014)
- "Storm Surges, Disaster Planning and Vulnerable Populations at the Urban Periphery: Imagining a Resilient New York after Superstorm Sandy," by Prof. Andrea McCardle (CUNY Law) to be published in the Idaho Law Review (2014)
- "Letters Non-Testamentary," by Deborah Gordon (Drexel Law), to be published in Kansas Law Review (2014)
- "Complex Decision-Making and Cognitive Aging Call for Enhanced Protection of Seniors Contemplating Reverse Mortgages," by Profs. Debra Stark (John Marshall Law), Jessica Choplin (Depaul), Joseph Mikels (Depaul), and Amber McDonnell (John Marshall Law), for the Arizona State Law Journal (2014)
Thursday, August 21, 2014
We have blogged several times on articles about whether Americans are "retirement ready". A recent article published by Rand offers good news (or at least better news) about retirement readiness. The recent research brief, More Americans May Be Adequately Prepared for Retirement Than Previously Thought, concludes "that, overall, about 71 percent of individuals ages 66–69 are adequately economically prepared to retire, given expected consumption... [there are] large disparities across subsets of the population and the significant contribution of Social Security to seniors’ financial preparation for retirement [continues]. The key findings from the research explains a bit more:
•Overall, 71 percent of Americans are adequately prepared for retirement: 80 percent of married persons and 55 percent of single persons.
• Those with low education are much less adequately prepared than those with higher levels of education, especially single women.
• Social Security benefits contribute significantly to financial security at older ages.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Biden and a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reminds us that is easy -- perhaps a bit too easy -- to blame the federal government for problems. In a piece for the Washington Post, Bernstein points to several successes wrought by Social Security, a program that celebrated its 79th "birthday" on August 14, 2014, including:
• Social Security lifts the incomes of 58 million Americans, and for most of its elderly beneficiaries it’s the single most important income source, accounting for two-thirds of their income on average.
• For more than one-third of retirees on the program, Social Security accounts for at least 90 percent of their income.
• [Figures show] that were it not for Social Security benefits, over 44 percent of the elderly would be poor. With it, that share falls to 9 percent. What’s that again about government programs failing to reduce poverty?
The impact of monthly Social Security benefits on impoverished older persons is demonstrated by this chart from Kathy Ruffing, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
The July, 2014 issue of the Social Security Administration's International Update is now available.
The Update includes articles on Germany's new pension rules, proposals for revamping Australia's social support system, and more.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Arin Fife, from the family law firm of Boyle and Feinberg in Chicago, offers "Don't Let Divorce Derail Your Retirement Plans: Understanding Your Options Before, During and After Your Marriage" in the Summer issue of the ABA's magazine Family Advocate. She reviews retirement basics, including differences between defined benefit and defined contribution plans, how accounts are valued, how accounts may be divided and addresses what do do with contributions during the divorce proceedings. She reminds that a low-income spouse may be advised to delay a divorce if approaching the ten-year anniversary of the marriage date, thereby maximizing Social Security options based on the stronger earner's SSA record. She warns that some "states consider this an offset against accumulation during marriage. Ask your lawyer for clarification in your state."
Lots of good tips here, including the reminder that if retirement accounts will be divided using a "Qualified Domestic Relations Order" or QDRO, it is important to give the plan administrator an opportunity to review and "pre-approve" the plan, thereby avoiding arguments or surprises after the property division or divorce is complete.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
The CarTalk Guys on National Public Radio have a crazy tradition of breaking their one hour radio program into "three halves" (okay, they have a lot of crazy traditions -- I'm focusing on just one). In that tradition, I'd been thinking about how the practice of "elder law" might also have three halves, but then I realized that perhaps it really has five halves. See what you think.
- In the United States, private practitioners who call themselves "Elder Law Attorneys" usually focus on helping individuals or families plan for legal issues that tend to occur between retirement and death. Many of the longer-serving attorneys with expertise in this area started to specialize after confronting the needs of their own parents or aging family members. They learned -- sometimes the hard way -- about the need for special knowledge of Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance and the significance of frailty or incapacity for aging adults. They trained the next generations of Elder Law Attorneys, thereby reducing the need to learn exclusively from mistakes.
- Closely aligned with the private bar are Elder Law Attorneys who work for legal service organizations or other nonprofit law firms. They have critical skills and knowledge of health-related benefits under federal and state programs. They also have sophisticaed information about the availability of income-related benefits under Social Security. They often serve the most needy of elders. Their commitment to obtain solutions not just for one client, but often for a whole class of older clients, gives them a vital role to play.
- At the state and federal levels, core decisions are made about how to interpret laws affecting older adults. Key decisions are made by attorneys who are hired by a government agency. Their decisions impact real people -- and they keep a close eye on the financial consequences of permitting access to benefits, even if is often elected officials making the decisions about funding priorities. I would also put prosecutors in this same public servant "Elder Law" category, especially prosecutors who have taken on the challenge of responding to elder abuse.
- A whole host of companies, both for-profit and nonprofit, are in the business of providing care to older adults, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, home-care agencies and so on -- and they too have attorneys with deep expertise in the provider-side of "Elder Law," including knowledge of contracts, insurance and public benefit programs that pay for such services.
- Last, but definitely not least, attorneys are involved at policy levels, looking not only to the present statutes and regulations affecting older adults, but to the future of what should be the legal framework for protection of rights, or imposition of obligations, on older adults and their families. My understanding and appreciation of this sector has increased greatly over the last few years, particularly as I have come to know human rights experts who specialize in the rights of older persons.
Of course, lawyers are not the only persons who work in "Elder Law" fields and it truly takes a village -- including paralegals, social workers, case workers, health care professionals, and law clerks -- to find ways to use the law effectively and wisely. Ironically, at times it can seem as if the different halves of "elder law" specialists are working in opposition to each other, rather than together.
My reason for trying to identify these "Five Halves" of Elder Law is that, as with most of us who teach courses on elder law or aging, I have come to realize I have former students working in all of these divisions, who began their appreciation for the legal needs of older adults while still in law school. Organizing these "halves" may also help in organizing course materials.
I strongly suspect I'm could be missing one or more sectors of those with special expertise in Elder Law. What am I forgetting?
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Mexico and countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America have been working very hard on the question of whether laws are needed to recognize and promote the human rights of older persons. This commitment was demonstrated during the 2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference in Chicago, by Rosa Bella Caceres Mongelos from Paraguay, as one of the speakers on the panel focused on "Dignity, Equality and Anti-Ageism Rights of Older Persons."
Professor Caceres Mongelos is the current president of the Central Association of Retired Public Servants and Teachers in Paraguay, and has experience as a master teacher, educational administrator, and vocational counselor. She has also taught classes at the university level on leadership. When I asked whether her organization is comparable to AARP in the U.S., which was started by a retired teacher, she laughed and said "maybe some day." I think she would not mind me saying that she's tiny but powerful -- and certainly she is an articulate spokesperson for the issues her country, with a total popularion of 6.8 million, is facing.
Professor Caceras Mongelos has served as a spokesperson for her civil society organization during regional meetings for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012 and 2013 that led to endorsment of a formal international convention on the rights of older persons.
The participation of Paraguay in international discussions of aging is forward-thinking, as it is actually a comparatively young country in terms of its overall population. Persons aged 60 and over comprise approximately 8% of the population. Recent news reports indicate that more than 66% of its population is less than 30 years old. At the same time, with their citizens already experiencing relatively long-life spans, especially on a comparative basis (average life span is now 75 according to some reports), the country will begin to see the impact of aging as a nation starting in 2038.
The organization headed by Caceres Mongelos has adopted advocacy goals for its members, including health related goals, such as securing free health care (including mobile clinics) for retirees for critical matters such as vision and dental care, and for treatment of cancer and chronic diabetes, all issues recognized as important for the self-esteem of older persons. Her Central Association has a project called "Hogares de Jubliados" or "Homes for the Elderly," with a goal of providing space for as many as 200 persons deemed vulnerable and unprotected. Her organization seeks to "monitor and insure safekeeping of social security funds under control of the treasury" during the current fiscal crisis. A better system of public transportation is another key goal.
She described her Central Association's recent Yellow Ribbon Campaign to re-enforce recognition of the rights of civil services and retirees to be free from pay discrimination under the Constitution of Paraguay. She described the yellow ribbons as symbols for the "struggle to claim solidarity, love, better living and the light of hope for a bearable and dignified old age." Despite the small proportion of Paraguayans currently deemed older -- in their "third age" -- she said "fragility" often characterizes their life conditions, with more than a quarter of the population of older adults illiterate and with only 19% currently receiving any form of income from pension or retirement benefits. In addition, her association stresses that real attention must be paid to the needs of older persons in indigenous communities and Afro-descendants.
In closing, Professor Caceres Mongelos called for an end to procrastination on international recognition of the rights of older persons. She said, "Declaring and implementing the regulations calling for dignity, equality and non-discrimination ... for older persons needs to be achieved as quickly as possible [toward] the goal of improving quality of life and respecting the human rights of older persons."
Sunday, July 20, 2014
The growing significance and scope of "elder law" is demonstrated by the program for the upcoming 2014 Elder Law Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to be held on July 24-25. In addition to key updates on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans and Social Security law, plus updates on the very recent changes to Pennsylvania law affecting powers of attorney, here are a few highlights from the multi-track sessions (48 in number!):
- Nationally recognized elder law practitioner, Nell Graham Sale (from one of my other "home" states, New Mexico!) will present on planning and tax implications of trusts, including special needs trusts;
- North Carolina elder law expert Bob Mason will offer limited enrollment sessions on drafting irrevocable trusts;
- We'll hear the latest on representing same-sex couples following Pennsylvania's recent court decision that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages;
- Julian Gray, Pittsburgh attorney and outgoing chair of the Pennsylvania Bar's Elder Law Section will present on "firearm laws and gun trusts." By coincidence, I've had two people this week ask me about what happens when you "inherit" guns.
Be there or be square! (Who said that first, anyway?)
July 20, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Retirement, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
An interesting moment for me at the 2014 Internatonal Elder Law and Policy Conference at John Marshall Law School in early July occurred when I asked several speakers from China to comment on recent reports suggesting "filial support" or "family support" is attracting interest of legislators, courts and older persons in China. For example, I shared with them the text, in English and Chinese, from Chinese Law Prof Blog on "Controversy Over Elder Law in China," that included news reports on consideration of laws in Shandong province in northeastern coastal China. If passed the laws would appear to require adult children to maintain "their parents' standard of living at a level at least equal to their own."
My question sparked a vigorous debate among the Chinese participants and quite a few chuckles from the audience as we tried to keep up with the translators. Over the course of the next two days Professor Lihong Tang from the law school at Fuzhou University in Fujian Province, Professor Chey-Nan Hsieh from Chinese Culture University in Taiwan, and Professor Xianri Zhou of South China Normal University School of Law in Shanghai attempted to help me understand. Here is my understanding of several points made during our discussion, a conversation we have agreed to continue via email:
- The population of individuals aged 65 and older in China is already 119 million. From my separate research I know that the older population is projected to continue to grow at a rate of 3.2 percent per year. The percentage of the population deemed older is also increasing, and according to some reports, it is projected to hit 1/6th of the total population by 2018 and possible as high as 1/5th of the total population by 2035. In other words, as Professor Tang explained, at some point in the relatively near future the total number of elderly in China could exceed the total population -- young, middle-aged and old -- of the U.S.
- With these population statistics in mind, they advised caution in making any judgments or predictions about trends based on a single case decision or from news stories reporting about any single family controversy involving support. And of course, this point is valuable to remember in all legal research, but the importance (and challenge) of having an adequate empirical base in China may be even more significant.
- Court actions to mandate younger family members to care for their elders are not a major trend in China. Rather, they emphasized that most families voluntarily provide the majority of care and financial assistance needed by their elders.
- There are efforts to create a stronger public system of income support where necessary to meet basic needs.
- Recent news reports (that received high profile attention in the U.S., such as this 2013 report on CNN) about a Chinese law that would mandate that adult children also "visit" their elderly parents were focusing on a "proposed" law, not one that was enacted.
In addition to my on-going discussion with the law professors at the conference, Yihan Wang, Senior Judge in the People's Court of the Jing'an District in Shanghai, gave a fascinating presentation on "The Path of Judicial Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly in China." He has served for many years as a judge, and is currently in charge of "civil trials, commercial trials, finance trials and elderly trials" in his judicial district in Shanghai. He explained that an "elderly judicial tribunal" was established in 1994, for civil cases in which one or both parties is aged 60 or more. His court recognizes that older adults may have unique needs for legal assistance in disputes, including a potential need for free legal representation or guidance.
After the presentation of his paper via a translator, Judge Yihan Wang provided me with a copy of the English language translation of his paper. Thus, I was able to both hear and read about his examples of cases that have occurred in the Shanghai court:
"For one example, in the disputes of sale contracts of real estate, some adult children sell their parents' apartment and violate their parents' residency by stealing their parents' identification -- or make them sign the contract with the older person is unconscious. In [some] cases, the judge will judge the contract as valid to protect the third-parties' legal rights according to the Property Law. However, in cases involving the older [person], judges will consider more about the buyer's duty of care and the residency rights of the senior. They will be more cautious and much more strict to confirm the effectiveness of the contract. Mainly to protect the older people's residency right."
In contrast to my on-going discussion with the three Chinese law professors who emphasized the voluntary nature of assistance provided by families to their elders, Judge Yihan Wang's paper suggested that some level of litigation or claims review does occur over the issue of "family support," including what he described as efforts to "remind the adult children of their duty." His paper reported that "statistics show that 56% of the claiming alimony cases are closed by conciliation. In most of these cases, after the trials, children go to visit their parents automatically and the family relationship is improved." He emphasized that for older adults, "conciliation not only protects their legal rights and interests, but also maintains their family relationship and brings their children home."
Judge Yihan Wang's paper, in translation, concludes with these words: "China's 5,000-year-old culture emphasizes respect for the elderly, pension, help age virtues, which [are] absorbed by Chinese law and policy concerning the elderly, reflected in the Chinese judicial practice and become the judicial characteristics on protection of the rights and interests of the elderly in China."
Thus, I can see that my efforts to understand the role of "filial support" or "family support" laws in China will continue, especially as it appears that there may be regional differences in how any such laws are used or needed. In most countries I have studied, voluntary assistance, both practical and financial, flowing from adult children to elderly parents, is the norm. What I find interesting is the question of to what extent is "voluntary" filial assistance also encouraged, mandated, or subject to enforcement by laws. Is the 5,000 year tradition of filial piety under sufficient pressure in the 21st century that law is necessary?
Friday, June 20, 2014
I'm at the mid-point in a three-week period of fairly intense focus on elder protection issues.
Last week, I accepted the invitations of Dickinson Law alum Bob Gerhard and Judge Lois Murphy to join them at the Montgomery County Elder Justice Roundtable to discuss practical concerns about elder abuse at the local level. Bob and I conducted two sessions on Powers of Attorney.
This week, I've had the privilege of being part of working sessions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Elder Law Task Force. Judge Murphy, right, is also a part of this effort. A fascinating mix of trial and appellate level judges, district attorneys, legal aid specialists, solo practitioners, "big firm" lawyers, court administrators, state officials, protective service case workers, social workers (and a couple of us academic types) spent two intense days discussing a year's worth of research on how better to serve the interests and needs of adults who may be at risk of neglect or intentional harm, including financial abuse. Guided by the charge of Justice Debra Todd of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, we're looking to issuance of a comprehensive report and recommendation for actions, probably in the early fall 2014.
Next week, I land in Belfast, Northern Ireland for several days of working group meetings on law and aging topics. On Tuesday, June 24, I am part of a research team's Roundtable discussion on recommendations regarding "social care" for older persons. hosted by the independent Commissioner of Older Persons in Northern Ireland (COPNI). Our team leader for that project is Dr. Joseph Duffy of Queen's University Belfast. The following day, I will attend the COPNI's launch of "Protecting our Elder People in Northern Ireland: A Call for Safeguarding Legislation in Northern Ireland." Commissioner Claire Keatinge and her team have been tireless in pursuing a full agenda of safeguarding, care and dignity goals for seniors. Last winter I worked on research findings and recommendations with team leader Dr. Janet Anand, also of Queens University Beflast, that served as a base for the Safeguarding Law proposals. These two projects have involved amazingly talented scholars from diverse backgrounds, including social work and law in Scotland, England, Wales, Australia and, of course, both the north and south of Ireland. The truth is that I've been an avid "student" during my opportunities in Northern Ireland, often facing the reality that those on the other side of the Atlantic are ahead of the U.S. in thinking about key concepts, especially "social care" goals. I look forward to more work, writing several follow-up articles in collaboration with team members as a result of the rich research environment of the last year.
Following this schedule, I'm probably going to take a break from "daily" blogging for a few weeks. I fear my brain may explode if I don't give it a bit of a rest, and I hear the green hills and fields of Ireland calling to me.
June 20, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Law & Society Association's Annual Meeting is always a feast -- with hundreds of presentations and papers, often with cross-discipline themes and presenters. This year's four day program starts today in Minneapolis. On tap are three elder law-themed sessions hosted by Aging, Law & Society. The session on "Rethinking Elder Law's Rules & Norms" will be chaired by Nina Kohn, Syracuse University.
Scheduled paper presentations include:
- Adult Protective Services and Therapeutic Jurisprudence, by Michael Schindler, Bar-Ilan University;
- Age, Gender and Lifetime Discrmination against Working Women, by Susan Bisom-Rapp, Thomas Jefferson School of Law and Malcolm Sargeant, Middlesex University Business School;
- Effective Affective Forecasting in Older Adult Caregiving, by Eve Brank and Lindsey Wylie, University of Nebraska-Lincoln;
- Sexuality & Incapacity, by Alexander Boni-Saenz, Chicago-Kent College of Law;
- Beyond the Law: Legal Consciousness in Older Age Care Contexts, by Sue Westwood, Keele University
Nancy Knauer of Temple Law School is chairing the session on "Accessing and Experiencing Jusice in Older Age." Presentations include:
- From Vienna to Madrid and Beyond, by Israel Doron, University of Haifa;
- Lessons from Detroit: Retiree Benefits in the Real World, by Susan Cancelosi, Wayne State University Law School;
- Older Persons Use of the European Court of Human Rights, by Benny Spanier, Haifa University;
- Crossing Borders and Barriers: Assessing Older Adults' Access to Legal Advice in the Search for Effective Justice, by Katherine Pearson, Penn State University Dickinson School of Law, Joseph Duffy, Queens University Belfast, and Subhajit Basu, University of Leeds
A workshop on "Ethics of Care and Support in Law and Aging," to be chared by Sue Westwood, Keele University, includes:
- Aging with a Plan: What You Should Consider in Middle Age to Plan for Caregiving and Your Own Old Age, by Sharona Hoffman, Case Western Reserve University;
- An Ethic of Care Critique of the UK Care Bill/Act, by Sarah Webber, University of Bristol;
- Both Property and Pauper: Slaver, Old Age, and the Inverted Logic of Capitalist Exchange, by Alix Lerner, Princeton University;
- Responding to Financial Vulnerability: Advances in Gerotchnology as an Alternative to the Substitute Decision Making Model, by Margaret Hall, Thompson Rivers University and Margaret Easton, Simon Fraser University
An international cast of characters, yes? More soon, with details from the front.
Friday, May 23, 2014
John Marshall Law School and Roosevelt University, both in Chicago, and East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, are jointly sponsoring an International Elder Law and Policy Conference in Chicago on July 10-11.
Keynote speakers include Professor Israel Doron of the University of Haifa in Israel and Dr. Ellinoir Flynn and Professor Gerard Quinn, both from National Unviersity of Ireland, Galway School of Law.
Scheduled panel topics include:
- Dignity and Rights of the Elderly
- Elimination of Age Discrimination
- Caregivers and Surrogate Decision Makers
- Social Security, Pensions and Other Retirement Financing Approaches
- Prevention of Elder Abuse
- Access to Justice
Here's the link to the Registration website.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Maryland Elder Law and Disability Law specialist Ron Landsman provides a thoughtful analysis of use of trusts, especially "special needs trusts," to assist families in effective managment of assets. His most recent article, "When Worlds Collides: State Trust Law and Federal Welfare Programs," appears in the Spring 2014 issue of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) Journal. Minus the footnotes, his article begins:
"'Special needs trusts,' which enable people with assets to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, are the intersection of two different worlds: poverty programs and the tools of wealth management. Introducing trusts into the world of public benefits has resulted in deep confusion for public benefit administrators. . . . The confusion arising from the merger of trust law with public benefits is sharply drawn in the agencies' [Social Security Administration (SSA) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)] attempts to define what it means for a trust to be for the sole benefit of the public benefits recipient. Public benefits administrators have focused on the distributions a trustee makes rather than the fiduciary standards that guide the trustee. The agencies have imposed detailed distribution rules that range from the picayune to the counterproductive and without regard, and sometimes contrary, to the best interests of the disabled beneficiary."
Drawing upon his experience in drafting trusts for disabled persons, Ron takes on the challenge of explaining how and where he sees the agencies' focus on "distribution" as misguided. He contends, for example:
"The [better] task for CMS and SSA [would be] to use their authority to develop standards and guidelines that utilize, rather than thwart, competent, responsible, properly trained trustees as their partners in making special needs trusts an effective tool in serving the needs of people with disabilities. If this were done properly, capable trustees would be the allies of the federal and state agencies in the efficient use of limited private resources. Beneficiaries would live better, more rewarding lives to the extent that resources can make a difference, at a lower cost to Medicaid, with a greater possibility of more funds recovered through payback."
Ron is detailed in his critique of agency guidelines and manuals, and he provides clear examples of his "better" sole benefit analysis.
May 15, 2014 in Estates and Trusts, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
It occurs to me that what I'm about to write here is a mini-review of a mini-book. Slightly complicating this little task is the fact that I count both authors as friends and mentors.
The latest edition of Elder Law in a Nutshell by Professors Lawrence Frolik (University of Pittsburgh) and Richard Kaplan (University of Illinois) arrived on my desk earlier this month. (As Becky might remind us, both are definitely Elder Law's "rock stars.") And as with fine wine, this book, now its 6th edition, becomes more valuable with age. This is true even though achieving the right balance of simplicity and detail cannot be an easy task for authors in the intentionally brief "Nutshell" series. Presented in the book are introductions to the following core topics:
- Ethical Considerations in Dealing with Older Clients
- Health Care Decision Making
- Medicare and Medigap
- Long-Term Care Insurance
- Nursing Homes, Board and Care Homes, and Assisted Living Facilities
- Housing Alternatives & Options (including Reverse Mortgages)
- Alternatives to Guardianship (including Powers of Attorneys, Joint Accounts and Revocable Trusts)
- Social Security Benefits
- Supplemental Security Income
- Veterans' Benefits
- Pension Plans
- Age Discrimination in Employment
- Elder Abuse and Neglect
The authors describe their anticipated audience, including "lawyers and law students needing an overview of some particular subject, social workers, certain medical personnel, gerontologists, retirement planners and the like." Curiously, they don't mention potential clients, including family members of older persons. I suspect the book can and does assist prospective clients in thinking about when and why an "elder law specialist" would be an appropriate choice for consultation. This book is a very good starting place.
What's missing from the overview? Not a lot, although I find it interesting that despite solid coverage of the basics of Medicaid, and even though it is unrealistic to expect exhaustive coverage in a mini-book, the authors do not hint at the bread and butter of many elder law specialists, i.e., Medicaid Planning. Thus, there's little mention of some of the more cutting edge (and therefore potentially controversial) planning techniques used to create Medicaid eligibility for an individual's long-term care while also preserving assets that otherwise would have to be spent down.
Modern approaches, depending on the state, may range from the simple, such as permitted use of assets to purchase a better replacement auto, to more complex planning, as in states that permit purchase of spousal annuities or use of promissory notes, allow modest half-a-loaf gifting, or recognize spousal refusal. Even though the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 succeeded in restricting assets transfers to non-spouse family members, families, especially if there is a community spouse, may still have viable options. Without appropriate planning the community spouse, particularly a younger spouse, may be in a tough spot if forced to spend down to the "maximum" permitted to be retained, currently less than $120,000 (in, for example, Pennsylvania). See, for example, a thoughtful discussion of planning options, written by Elder Law practitioners Julian Gray and Frank Petrich.
Perhaps the Nutshell omission is a reflection of the unease some who teach Elder Law may feel about the public impact of private Medicaid planning?
May 14, 2014 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Books, Cognitive Impairment, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare, Property Management, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, May 9, 2014
Via the Korean Herald (op-ed piece):
After many twists and turns, the National Assembly has finally passed the controversial “basic pension” bill, enabling President Park Geun-hye to make good on one of her key election pledges.
The Assembly’s action on the bill was much belated but welcome. The legislation, which is expected to go into effect in July or August, will benefit the poorest 70 percent of Koreans aged 65 or older.
Specifically, about 4.5 million of the nation’s 6.4 million senior citizens will receive a monthly allowance of between 100,000 won and 200,000 won[about $100-200], depending on their income. Of the beneficiaries, about 90 percent will receive the maximum 200,000 won.
This scheme is not exactly the same as what Park promised on the campaign trail. During the election campaign, she promised to pay a uniform monthly allowance of 200,000 won to all citizens aged 65 or older, regardless of their income. But it was increasingly clear that Park’s universal pension plan was beyond the government’s financing capacity. So last September, the government decided to scale it back.
The basic pension scheme, even in its original form, is hardly sufficient to eliminate widespread poverty among senior citizens. Korea’s relative poverty rate among elderly people stands at 49.3 percent, the highest among OECD nations.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Via Investment News:
Average health care costs for middle-income retirees are on a path to exceed their Social Security benefits, according to a newly created Retirement Health Care Cost Index. The index devised by HealthView Services, a provider of Medicare, Social Security and long-term-care planning tools, measures the percentage of Social Security benefits required to pay for health care-related costs in retirement for a healthy couple receiving the average expected Social Security benefit at full retirement age. Retirement health care costs will increase from 69% of Social Security benefits for a couple retiring next year to 98% of Social Security benefits for a healthy couple retiring 10 years from now, according to the index. For couples retiring two decades from now, the gap will be even more dramatic. They would need 127% of average Social Security benefits to cover their health care costs in retirement. Total retirement health care costs measured by the index include all Medicare premiums, including Parts B and D, and Medigap premiums, as well as out-of-pocket costs, including co-pays not covered by Medicare. The index assumes that the primary income earner will generate the Social Security average of $1,294 per month in today's dollars and $817 per month for the lower-earning spouse. The index measures the lifetime average of health care costs, which tend to increase as retirees age.
Source/more: Investment News Retirement
Friday, April 18, 2014
Three legal advocacy organizations, Disability Rights Oregon, the Oregon Law Center and the National Senior Citizens Law Center, worked as a team to initiate a class action suit in Oregon on behalf of 700 individuals with disabilities to protect their rights to continue to receive Social Security benefits needed for basic living requirements. The individuals' access to monthly Social Security benefits was jeopardized when a non-profit organization, "Safety Net of Oregon," serving as their representative payee was disqualified following an investigation for alleged mismanagement of clients' funds. The advocates explained:
"This suit is asking that SSA follow its own regulations to make sure that benefits continue to flow to recipients in a safe and responsible manner. In early March, SSA sent a notice to approximately 1,000 SSA recipients who have Safety Net as a representative payee, advising them that their benefits would be suspended beginning April 1, 2014, and that the amount they would receive would be $0.00. While some recipients have been able to find a new payee, or to become their own payee, many clients never received the notice and have no idea that their benefits are about to be suspended. Almost 700 individuals still lack new payees as of March 21, 2014. Many are homeless, have severe and persistent mental illness, developmental disabilities, and/or alcohol or drug addictions. Many of the clients are profoundly social isolated and alienated, and totally unable to navigate the system on their own."
In response to the suit, the federal court issued a restraining order on March 26 requiring SSA to assign new payees to former Safety Net Clients, rather than delay, require new applications or other in-person requests by the disabled SSI and SSD recipients. More background here.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
The Social Security Administration announced on Monday that it is halting its practice of "Treasury Offsets" to recover debts reported to be 10 years or older. This decision comes just three days after the Washington Post's front page account of intercepts that targeted IRS income tax refunds going to children of alleged debtors. As reported in today's Washington Post:
“"I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law,' the acting Social Security commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, said in a statement.
Colvin said anyone who has received Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits and 'believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment' should contact the agency and 'seek options to resolve the overpayment.'”
The Washington Post reported that after its first article, "many hundreds of taxpayers whose refunds had been intercepted came forward and complained to members of Congress that they had been given no notice of the debts and that the government had not explained why they were being held responsible for debts that their deceased parents may have incurred."
Hmm. It seems that it is the intercept notice procedures that may be the focus of reexamination by the SSA, rather than giving up on the authority granted by Congress in 2008 to recover "stale" debts. Plus, it is unclear whether SSA will explain its theory for seeking recoveries against children of debtors.